Second-home owners uneasy about Snowmass vote

David Frey
July 25, 2004

If the future of Snowmass' Base Village goes to a vote, Mel Blumenthal won't get a say. Neither will Jerry Rich, or thousands of people who call Snowmass Village home, sometimes, but don't make it their primary residence.

Like their counterparts in the Vail Valley, the situation has left some second-home owners feeling helpless that a referendum might be on the way and they can't do anything about it. They can't sign a petitions, either.

"It's difficult to comprehend that 175 people can make this decision (to force a referendum) when second-home owners own the most expensive real estate in the Village," Jerry Rich, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla. but has a home in the Snowmass area, said at a recent Town Council meeting in which many second-homeowners expressed the similar concerns.

The looming possibility of a referendum on major development in their town has rekindled a feeling among many part-time residents that they should get a vote on local issues because they also pay taxes that fund local facilities and government services.

"It's broader than even just Base Village," said Mel Blumenthal, whose primary home is in Los Angeles, but who splits time between California and Snowmass Village. "There seems to be something quite unfair about that process.. It seems to me it's only fair that when we're dealing with major issues such as Base Village, that we have a voice alongside people who live here permanently."

Critics sharply disagree, saying that allowing second-home owners a vote would fly in the face of democratic provisions that ensure one person one vote, regardless of their property holdings.

"This is America, and we're a democracy, and you register to vote where your primary residence is," Town Councilman Doug Mercatoris said. "That's where you register to vote and that's where you vote. If someone has a home in Snowmass Village, they're more than welcome to register to vote here. But they can't vote in Chicago and vote here."

Blumenthal said he's not asking to let nonresidents get two votes on national elections, but he said, they should get to vote on local issues that affect them since they already paying taxes that benefit the community.

"In my opinion, if it wasn't for the vast number of second-home owners providing both property tax support, transfer tax support, all of it, we wouldn't have the kind of infrastructure that's here. Aspen and Snowmass are too small to be able to afford world-class hospitals, fire departments. I think people tend to forget those things don't just pop up."

If voters approved it, Snowmass wouldn't be the first community to let second-home owners vote. Mountain Village, at Telluride, became the first when the town formed in 1996.

- David Frey